If you’ve ever been in a gym on a Monday, you probably noticed everyone benching. While most people bench on Mondays, rarely does anyone have any plans with this exercise. Instead, some people fall victim to a number of really common and easy to make mistakes that will raise your risk of injury and do nothing for your muscles. If you do it right, the bench press will chisel your muscles – your deltoids, triceps and pecs will start growing and you will become a lot stronger. If you want to know what to do to get your bench press up to par, you will first need to know what mistakes you are making and how to fix them. So, without further ado, here are those mistakes, detailed with ways to correct them.
#1. You Bench Like a Pro Bodybuilder
There is no black and white in working out, no absolute way to do an exercise right, although there are plenty of ways to do them completely wrong. What you are looking for is the optimal way to perform something, and benching like a pro bodybuilder is not that way. It doesn’t matter if you want to move weight or pack on some muscle – benching like a pro bodybuilder is neither, so if you have to imitate someone, imitate powerlifters. Their technique will add pounds to your bench press by boosting your stability, reducing the motion of the bar and set up your muscles in a way that will guarantee success. Here is how to bench properly:
- Lie on your back on the bench. Have the bar right over your eyes.
- Reach out and grab the bar as hard as you can. Make sure your hands aren’t wider than index fingers on the rings.
- Arch your back just a bit and squeeze your shoulder blades together.
- Put your feet under your hips and press down with the balls of your feet into the floor. Clench your glutes.
- Breathe in and lift the bar slowly until it’s unracked with your lats, like you would if you were doing a straight-arm pulldown.
- Pull the bar right below your nipple line. Have your elbows at 45 degrees to your torso.
- Take a brief pause, dig your heels into the floor and push up as hard as you can to do a rep.
- Repeat until you’ve done the necessary number of reps. It might feel weird in the beginning, but this technique will provide never before seen power and strength.
#2. Your Upper Back Is Weak
If you want to deliver a strong bench press, you have to have a strong upper back. These muscles are the foundation on which good lifting is built, and you want a good, strong foundation if you don’t want your benching to bring you nothing but a standstill and injuries. When it does stall, or you have just realized you aren’t strong enough, do some rows, face pulls and pull-ups twice a week and snatches and deadlifts once a week. Do these exercises until you feel like your upper back muscles are strong enough to let you bench efficiently.
#3. Your Triceps Are Weak
While it’s true that the chest muscles and the shoulders are the ones lifting the bar, it’s also true that in the last bit of the lift, the triceps are the most important lifters. If your triceps are weak, you won’t be able to lock out and do the exercise to its fullest potential. Do some push-downs and kickbacks in order to improve your triceps. Also, some dips, skull crushers, push-ups and dumbbell extensions will do magic for the backs of your arms, so you’ll be able to deliver the final push.
#4. You Fail Too Often
When you do squats or deadlifts, you usually don’t take it to complete muscle failure in order to save yourself a stay at your local hospital, but it’s always the opposite with bench presses. The last time you went to failure while benching is probably the last time you benched. This isn’t healthy for a multitude of reasons. First of all, you’re benching to failure and onwards with a spotter that lifts more than you do after your muscles have failed. You are not doing anything for your body when you lift a portion of the weight you lifted just a minute ago.
Stop benching when you come close to technical failure, which means you can still pump out some reps but with imperfect form. If you want to boost your benching maximum, you shouldn’t go all-out with your weight. However, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go hard and heavy, only that you need to plan it. When you do 5 sets of 3 reps each, with a weight that is your 5 rep max, you are going to build strength and you won’t reach failure. It works like a charm, every time – just make sure your form is nice and pure and that the last rep looks like the first one. No failing.
#5. You Don’t Bench Often Enough
If you want to become better at benching, you will need to practice. You need to take an approach that will let you start slow and improve over time, while purifying your technique. So, instead of benching once a week, try benching twice per week to become stronger and be able to lift more. Go heavy with low reps one day and light with more reps on the second one. Working out twice per week on a single muscle group isn’t detrimental to your health and will only improve your technique and your bar speed.
#6. You Bounce the Bar Off Your Chest
How bench pressing doesn’t break ribs every day is beyond me, since everyone seems to think they can just bounce the bar (with all that weight on it too!) off their chest and do fine. While it’s really cool if you can pump out a million reps a minute, you are not doing your body any favors when you bounce the bar off your sternum. You need to improve your muscles and your lifting form, not break your bones or go easier on yourself.
So, instead of bouncing it off you, pull the bar to your chest like you’re doing a barbell row. Clench your scapulae together, tuck your elbows in and pull the weight down with the utmost control. The bar should be tightly in your hands and it should only touch your air-tight chest lightly before you put your heels in the floor and press it up. Flare up your bows when you get about half-way to lockout. If you get this right, the control over the bar will rise and you will become a much better bencher because of it.
#7. You Don’t Use Your Legs
Contrary to popular belief, benching is not just a chest exercise, but actually a full-body one. If you bench with just your upper body, you are neglecting your quads, hamstrings and glutes, and everyone who’s anyone knows that you need that leg drive to lift a lot of weight. If you arch your back just a bit, you’ll be able to put your feet under your hips, which will stretch out the hips and prepare them for an explosion of energy when you press. Your thighs should be tightly on the bench for stability, and the balls of your feet should be dug well into the floor so that you’re even more stable. If you’ve ever seen someone moving their feet while benching, they’re probably not that strong, or a good bencher at that, so keep your feet on the ground while lifting.